Just the other day, as I stepped out of the shower and into my grey sweatpants, it hit me: I have a uniform now.
I gave birth to my daughter 11 months ago, and I am on extended maternity leave from my job as a fourth-grade teacher. In my working life, I’d typically wear comfortable and somewhat stylish basics — usually black — with at least one punchy piece: a fun shirt, a quirky shoe, or whimsical earrings.
Now, however, my signature look revolves around a pair of baggy, grey sweatpants. About the time the weather was growing colder and the baby was about six months old, I unearthed the pants from my brother’s old dresser while I was visiting my parents. My brother is now 40, and he lives hundreds of miles away from that dresser. I have no idea how long those pants had been in there, but when I found them and tried them on, my entire body smiled. Since then, I’ve paired the sweatpants with a black tank top — easy for nursing — with one of three shirts and, ta da! I’m dressed.
Admittedly, sometimes I catch my reflection in the mirror, and I think about the girl who used to drool at the pages of InStyle, certain that I would, one day, dress like those women. But that’s just not me — at least not right now. Right now, I need to be able to get on the floor and let my baby girl crawl all over me. I need to be able to withstand extreme tickle fights with my energetic 5-year-old son. I am basically a human tissue, napkin, tablecloth, burp cloth — you name it. I drop food all over me as I eat dinner while nursing the baby. And I don’t care. Because I’m wearing sweatpants.
To be clear — because both laundry and spit-ups happen regularly — I have two pairs of backup sweats. They’re OK but they’re not nearly as fabulous (and roomy!) as my grey sweatpants. But this isn’t just about comfort. Having a uniform, I’ve realized, frees up precious brain space: I have a million things to do and to decide in a single day — big decisions based around the little people in my life. I don’t have the energy to stare at my closet each morning and choose between this or that.
And by adopting a mom uniform, I’m carrying on a family tradition: For every phase of my childhood, my mom had a uniform of her own. Some of the most important ones included “The UPS employee,” a roomy, brown, linen shirt with a matching, wide-legged trouser. Then there was the formidable communist regalia that paired a red, tightly-knit polo sweater with army green, pleated pants (this was the ‘80s!). There was also the boatneck phase, when my mother donned a striped, three-quarter length shirt daily and basically resembled a Venetian gondolier for the better part of four years.
Just as soldiers have their “dress blues,” my mom has always had her own formal uniform, too — it just changed with the decade. A two-piece jacket and skirt morphed into an A-line dress and blazer. The same outfit worn to all weddings, bar mitzvahs, and cocktail parties.
This wasn’t because my mom didn’t have enough clothes. In fact, to this day, my mom has many items in her closet that still have the tags on them. I never asked my mom why she wore (and still wears) the same outfit for giant chunks of time. But I don’t need to, because I’m a mom now. And without even trying to emulate this tradition, I am following in her uniform-clad footsteps.
A bit of research reveals that my mom was smartly combatting something called “decision fatigue.” Famously, Steve Jobs wore the same thing each day. He is joined by Mark Zuckerberg, former President Obama, and even Albert Einstein. Like my mom, these well-known powerhouses were all making life just a little less complicated by taking one daily decision off the list.
When I go back to work in less than a month, I will have to put in more effort.I will miss my grey sweatpants, and the mental (and physical) freedom they brought me. Just as my mom’s uniforms represent a different decade or phase of my childhood, my baggy, grey sweats will symbolize the full year that I got to spend at home with my babies.
After all, I was wearing my sweatpants in those low times, including the sleep deprivation and the tears (my own and the baby’s). I was wearing them when I first made my daughter laugh, and I was wearing them as I marveled at the the incredible bond developing between my son and his sister. From the adventures we’ve had to the mundane moments that I wish I could freeze and remember forever, my baggy, grey sweatpants have seen it all.